Di Wu

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Massachusetts Inst. of Technology

Grant number

Gr. 10357

Approve Date

April 13, 2022

Project Title

Wu, Di (Massachusetts Inst. of Technology) "Humanizing Artificial Intelligence: The Labor, Identity, and Activism of Disabled Data Workers in China’s AI Sector"

This project examines how data workers with disabilities in China’s artificial intelligence (AI) sector refigure technology, identity, and the disability movement through high-tech labor. People with disabilities, officially estimated at over 85 million in China, have been explicitly enrolled by government programs, corporations, and NGOs to classify and label training data for AI systems. Existing scholarship on such labor largely focuses on how tech work empowers or exploits, includes or excludes, people with disabilities. Departing from this approach, I consider disabled people as not so much on the receiving end of technological promise or peril, but as experts involved in the mundane construction of “intelligent” machines. My research brings into conversation anthropological studies of technology and work, critical disability studies, and anthropology of China. Through a multi-sited ethnographic study in a major disabled persons’ organization in China, I will examine how disabled workers participate in “humanizing” AI systems, how such labor refigures their lived experience, and why the disability community and technology industry have forged such an unlikely alliance. I propose the notion of “humanization labor” to encompass the ways in which disability enriches AI with myriad conceptual and embodied modes of being human.